Getting Healthy Again
Vince Young gets much of the credit when the Tennessee Titans win and the brunt of the blame when they lose. But it's Albert Haynesworth who is emerging as the team's true difference maker - when he's been healthy.
The Titans (7-5) look to build on their first victory in four games - which came in Haynesworth's return from a hamstring injury - and stay near the front of the pack for a wild-card berth when they host the AFC West-leading San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made San Diego -1 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 40 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 82% of bets for this game have been placed on San Diego -1 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Tennessee is 7-2 this season when Haynesworth has been in the lineup and 13-3 in the past 16 games when its star defensive tackle plays, dating back to Nov. 19, 2006.
"Albert's a dominant player," said Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who leads Tennessee with six sacks. "He affects (the opponent's) play calling, their blocking schemes. He's probably the most dominant inside player in football right now. He just changes the game."
Despite playing in just nine games, Haynesworth already has set a career high with five sacks - the most for a defensive tackle in the AFC.
But the only statistic that matters to the Titans is wins. Tennessee is tied with Cleveland for the sixth playoff seed in the AFC, so every game, particularly those against conference opponents - which would be the first tiebreaker between the Titans and Browns - is critical.
"We can't afford to lose any game," running back LenDale White said after last Sunday's 28-20 win over Houston. "Going on a three-game losing streak, this is great to get back on the winning end. It is good to know what winning feels like again."
The Titans were 6-2 after beating Carolina 20-7 on Nov. 4 - the day Haynesworth hurt his hamstring - but lost their next three games by an average of 19.3 points while he was sidelined.
Tennessee gave up 160.0 rushing yards per game during that skid, compared to an average of 71.9 when Haynesworth has played. The Titans did allow 119 last week, but Haynesworth was not fully recovered and sat out most of the fourth quarter.
Young has been inconsistent in his second season after being named the NFL's offensive rookie of the year in 2006, but had one of his best games of the season against Houston. He was 21-of-31 for 248 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He hadn't thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a game since a 31-14 win at New Orleans on Sept. 24.
"(Teams are) bringing a bunch of guys in the box," said Young, whose 68.9 passer rating is second-worst in the AFC. "They are basically telling us, 'Vince you can't make that throw.' And 'the receivers can't make that catch.' We took it upon ourselves to prove them wrong (against Houston). That's just nothing but motivation."
He'll get a chance to have success in the air against San Diego. The Chargers are 22nd in the league defending the pass.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Haynesworth was sore after beating the Texans, and though he's listed as questionable, should be ready to go against San Diego. White, the team's leading rusher with 754 yards and six touchdowns, suffered a lacerated finger on Sunday, but he's likely to play.
The Chargers (7-5) were expected to run away with the AFC West heading into this season, and though they lead the division by two games with four to play, it hasn't been as easy as many predicted.
San Diego started the season 1-3 and seemed in disarray after a 30-16 home loss to Kansas City that had reigning NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson questioning the direction of the team. But the Chargers avenged that loss last Sunday with a 24-10 road victory over the Chiefs for their second straight win and sixth in eight games.
"I think we have improved as a football team all the way through," said San Diego coach Norv Turner. "I know there were some weeks that it didn't show up."
The Chargers can clinch the AFC West for the third time in four years with a win at Tennessee coupled with a Denver loss to Kansas City.
Tomlinson has not had nearly the season he did in 2006 when he established 13 NFL records, including the single-season mark for rushing touchdowns (28), but last Sunday was special for the seventh-year back. He ran for 177 yards and two TDs to move past his boyhood idol, Walter Payton, into third place on the all-time list for rushing scores with 111.
"You've got to understand, the whole reason I wanted to even play football was seeing him," said Tomlinson, who is second in the AFC with 1,049 yards on the ground. "It's definitely an honor just to be mentioned in the same breath with, in my opinion, the greatest running back that has ever played the game."
Running may not be as easy for Tomlinson against Tennessee. The Titans have the seventh-best defense in the league against the run and are fifth in total defense.
After being selected to the Pro Bowl in his first season as the Chargers' starting quarterback, Philip Rivers has struggled in 2007. He's already thrown 13 interceptions after having just nine last season and inconsistency has been his greatest downfall. Rivers has played four games with a quarterback rating of at least 116.2 and six where it's been 68.9 or lower.
The Chargers blew out Tennessee 40-7 in San Diego last season, and have won four straight meetings since 1993.
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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